Marco Rubio’s defense proposal is certainly ambitious.
But it’s a bit rich to see the likes of NBC News characterize it as a “vast expansion of the military,” when the very first item of the proposal lays out its spending goal as: “Work to return to Secretary Gates’ fiscal year 2012 budget baseline over the course of his first term and begin to undo the damage caused by $1 trillion in indiscriminate defense cuts.”
It only looks like a vast expansion to those who have studiously ignored Barack Obama’s gutting of the military.
At the time, what Obama did to the FY 2012 budget was criticized as “subordinating the nation’s defense needs to budget goals” and “reducing defense spending below safe levels” by the Heritage Foundation. Even Defense Secretary Gates warned against equating vitally needed defense spending with discretionary spending on Obama’s preferred domestic budget items.
Rubio is, essentially, trying to reverse the cuts from Obama’s sequestration plan, which the president fled from in a panic after it failed to intimidate Republicans, and once automatic cuts to domestic spending went into effect as well.
(To give you an idea where NBC News is coming from, their story about the defense proposal describes Rubio as “a first-term senator elected in 2010 who has never served in the military,” and devotes its last paragraphs to hyping the media’s favorite new storyline about how he misses too many Senate votes.)
Rubio’s call to increase the size of the U.S. Navy to 323 ships has been made by bipartisan defense experts for years. Some of those recommendations called for even more ships than Rubio wants. The Navy is already planning for increased deployments, driven by concerns that China’s navy will outgrow the U.S. within the next five years.
Weapon systems funded in Rubio’s plan include the Ohio-class Replacement ballistic missile submarine, the F-35B jump-jet and F-35A stealth versions of the joint strike fighter, the mysterious Long Range Strike Bomber (aka the “B-3”), the K-46 midair refueling tanker, and the Long Range Standoff cruise missile.
In addition, Rubio calls for research into next-generation missile defense systems, including “directed energy weapons, railguns, and UAV-enabled defenses.” Improved anti-submarine defenses are on the menu as well, possibly a counter to concerns about China’s growing submarine fleet. He wants the U.S. nuclear arsenal modernized, and Obama’s planned cuts halted.
Rubio proposes restoring ground force strength by “reversing the current cuts and maintaining the Marine Corps and the Army at their pre-9/11 end-strengths of 182,000 and 490,000 respectively.” He would enhance recruitment by reforming the military career track, and benefits including retirement, education, and health care. At the same time, he calls for downsizing the Pentagon bureaucracy and using modern computer technology to “facilitate a more-technologically agile and adaptable workforce.”
Where Rubio’s prospective Democrat opponent Hillary Clinton has sought to downplay the V.A. crisis, Rubio takes it seriously, promising to “ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs is accountable and that our veterans have access to the best treatment possible when they return from the battlefield.”
Interestingly, Rubio’s proposal takes cyber warfare very seriously – to the point where the Senator wonders if an entirely new branch of the armed forces should be created to deal with it. Whether this change is made or not, he calls for improving both defensive and offensive cyber capabilities, integrating computer warfare more thoroughly with conventional military tactics, and making sure “our adversaries understand the consequences of attacking our computer systems.”
Rubio promised that, as President, he would “never send our troops into a fair fight.” It’s a great line, and a great philosophy, but it will not be easy nor cheap to achieve, given where President Obama has left both the U.S. military and American prestige around the world.